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HER SUCCESS IS SWEET WESTLAKE VILLAGE MOM TURNS BAKING SKILL IN TO PROFITABLE BUSINESS.

Byline: Angie Valencia-Martinez

Staff Writer

THOUSAND OAKS -- Lisa Donahue was a stay-at-home mom with a sweet tooth and too many disappointing experiences with chocolate cake.

"I kept trying to find a chocolate cake to satisfy me. I couldn't find it," she said. "I thought, 'I'll just make it myself.'"

Her quest for the perfect chocolate cake propelled her into the bakery business, starting in her own kitchen at home.

"It snowballed," Donahue said. "I was producing 100 cakes out of my house. Then I had Nordstrom knocking on my door.

"I was growing too fast by word of mouth. Then I had to make the decision. Do I do it as a hobby or cross that line?"

One year ago this month, the Westlake Village entrepreneur opened For Heavens Cakes -- which has grown into a fantastically successful business serving clients nationwide.

But running the Thousand Oaks bakery is no cakewalk. Donahue says she devotes up to 18 hours a day to keep it running smoothly and make the customers happy.

At times, it means missing her sons' soccer games or not being able to tuck them in at night.

Still, Kelley, 10, and Cameron, 9, are her biggest fans, bragging to friends at school that Mom owns a bakery.

"I tell them, 'If it wasn't for you two little monkeys, I wouldn't have been housebound and been inspired to bake a cake,'" said the single mom. "It's all because of them. This will be their business one day."

The 38-year-old baker picked up her first spatula at the age of 6 baking cookies and banana bread for her girlfriends.

At the age of 28, she found herself at home with two boys, ages 1 and 2, bored and craving sweets.

So she put her apron on and began tinkering with cake recipes, giving birth to what would become her best-seller: the Chocolate Bomb.

Within months, she was running an at-home cake company from orders she gathered at play dates and get-togethers with friends.

Roseann Bleiweiss of Calabasas encouraged her friend to start her own business.

"Her cakes are so different from everything else. A slither of a piece makes you feel like you've eaten a whole cake ... They're so rich.

"She slowly built her business by word of mouth. She's a real inspiration for moms everywhere."

Her biggest boost came from friends who work for Statement Calabasas Magazine and introduced her sweets to celebrities.

Then came the calls from restaurants, hotels and other shops ordering her chocolate, carrot, marble and lemon cakes.

She opened For Heavens Cakes at 804 Thousand Oaks Blvd., in Heritage Plaza, and celebrated the store's first birthday in November.

Located next to a bridal gown store, the shop has a stylish look with a private tasting room decked out in pink for brides- and grooms-to-be.

Donahue's bakery also features mini cakes and cake bites - miniature versions of her cake line, which includes a selection of about 20 cakes.

She has started to ship her cakes nationwide from orders she gets on the Internet and she hopes to one day open a chain of For Heavens Cakes.

"I don't sleep anymore," she said laughing. "I need a vacation."

"I thought I was going to be a stay-at-home mom forever. You just don't know what life is going to give you. To me it gave chocolate."

Visit For Heavens Cakes at www.forheavenscakes.com.

angie.valencia@dailynews.com

(818) 713-3699

The right ingredients

Would you like to follow in the footsteps of Lisa Donahue and become your own boss? Here's her recipe for success:

1. Love what you do

Donahue was in elementary school when she began baking.

"I had no idea it would turn into a business," said the Westlake Village woman. "I was a little girl, but I had a passion back then."

2. Research your market

It's important to know the demographics in your market and the laws that pertain to your business. Find that niche.

3. Network, market yourself

Donahue's orders first came from friends and family, but her business didn't take off until she got the word out.

"You can have the best idea in the world, but if you don't go out there and sell it, it will sit on the shelf and do nothing," she said.

4. Hire competent people

Because Donahue has no specialized training, she uses certified chefs who decorate her wedding cakes. The inside is all hers.

5. Embrace technology

The mother of two has started selling her signature cake bites, which resemble See's Candies, nationwide thanks to her Web site.

And remember to top it off with a dash of love.

"I didn't go to business school," she said. "I have no formal training.

"If you have passion, it can turn into a career. Anyone can do this."

- Angie Valencia-Martinez

CAPTION(S):

4 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- 2 -- color) Lisa Donahue frosts a Chocolate Bomb in her shop, For Heavens Cakes. Cake bites, at top, are tempting samples for her customers. The entrepreneur has come a long way since baking cakes in her home while caring for two young children.

(3) Couples can sample wedding cakes inside a room at Lisa Donahue's bakery in Thousand Oaks. For Heavens Cakes serves clients nationwide.

(4) Lisa Donahue's bakery also features mini cakes and cake bites - miniature versions of her cake cake line, which includes a selection of about 20 cakes.

Michael Owen Baker/Staff Photographer

Box:

The right ingredients (see text)
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Title Annotation:VALLEY INC.
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 26, 2007
Words:912
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